IPL IV: Not quite Calcutta Chicken Biriyani

Have I ever given the impression that I am a super chef with the golden touch who never goes wrong? Well, this post should fix that.

I have often spoken about my love for the Calcutta styled biriyani. All Calcuttans swear by this biriyani and get xenophobic when it comes to other versions. This is very different from the chicken curry rice that pretends to be 'biriyani' in Mumbai. It was not easily available nearby till recently. You get it at Hanglas at Bandra now. Kirti of Feastguru is the only person I know who makes a Calcutta styled biriyani very well at home. Oh Calcutta and Calcutta Club are other safe bets for Calcutta biriyani at Mumbai.

Spurred by my recent success with making Bengali pulao, I thought that I'll give the Calcutta biriyani shot. Recipe? Pshaw. Hadn't I followed my gut and made a stupendous Thai veg green curry recently? The Knife doesn't need recipes for God's sake.

Coincidentally the Kolkata Knight Riders were playing RCB in IPL 3 this evening. KKR is Calcutta's IPL cricket team owned by a film star from Mumbai who was born in Delhi. If that was possible then why couldn't a U K born market researcher from Calcutta based at Mumbai make an attempt at cooking Calcutta biriyani?

Well, my Biriyani attempt this evening turned out to be similar to the KKR's half baked IPL campaign at the end.

I had begun to conceptualise the biriyani in my head a few days back. Thought I will try it today, I needed a guinea pig. An SMS and the ever dependable 'food commando' Maity Man AKA Soumik was enlisted.I began the marination process while watching the KKR batsmen commit Harakiri in field. HaraKKRee as I FB'd.

I bunged the chicken for ten minutes in the micro. Five minute later I realised that I had forgotten to put the chicken in the micro before switching in on! The micro plate stopped spinning after that. Possibly due to this senile act. I sautéed the rice in ghee and garam masala, added a touch of turmeric, jeera powder, salt and sugar. Layered the same into the now microwave roasted chicken and curd marinate. Switched on the micro again. Figured out that the micro plate wasn't turning. Checked a few times. Saw that the rice wasn't evenly cooked. I stepped out to the drawing room and told K and Soumik, "we are getting there. We will soon know if we need to call in for dinner". I tried adjusting the consistency of the rice by adding water a few times. And squeezed a bit of lime juice as advised by someone. But the Mojo wasn't working today.

All this while our guest gamely waited. The match ended. KKR lost badly. I called the rather famished and anguished Maity Man to the kitchen.

His first reaction when he saw the biriyani was 'what a huge piece of chicken' (True, what's with these dinosaur legs that they sell at Marks these days?) He then looked a bit perplexed and said 'this is how my mother makes it'. Then he began to eat while I clicked pictures. I didn't know what to make of his reaction.

I took a bite and knew the biriyani wasn't quite there. The consistency of the rice left a lot to be desired. the fragrance and taste held promise but were light years away from the delicate finesse of the real thing made legendary by restaurants such as Nizams and Shiraz at Calcutta. The salt could have been a bit more. The potatoes were largely cooked. 'Largely' being the operative word. The chicken pieces were huge and ungainly and left a lot be desired.

My verdict, "It was getting there. BUT definitely not there"

"Er how did you get the even yellow colour (holud) all over? Couldn't that be avoided?" said Maity Man politely looking up for his plate.

"I guess they put dots of turmeric at the end in restaurants. The entire rice takes takes the colour of the turmeric if you add it in the beginning," I said.

Soumik thought for a while and then enigmatically said, "Hmmm like my mother's".

Then after a little more silence, "Did you try putting onions?"

"Do they put onions in Calcutta biriyani?" I replied.

"No, not really. But my mother deep fries onions. Almost caramelises them and puts them within layers of rice," the poor soul ventured.

And then our Maity Man steeled himself and said with a straight face "Very good job Kalyan".

I smiled and said, "No, not one of my best".

A look of relief crossed his face and M M replied "Yes, you can do better".

He quickly finished his dinner. A bemused look on his face. Took a piece from the box of chocolate offered. And scrammed. His parting words as I opened the door "Great job once again. But how do they get those specks of red in biriyani?"

"Food colour added at the end," I answered

."Aah food colour," he said and faded into the night.

"I'll work on perfecting this till next time" I later texted our harrowed dinner guest.

In the true spirit of a 'food commando' he replied back, "I want to be there during attempt number two too". And then he politely added, "maybe you can try cooking it in ghee and mutton stock the next time".

Well all I can say is that is not how we normally treat our guests. And that we are fortunate to have some really good and patient souls as friends.

After days of ignoring a fridge full of chocolates, I looked to the Ritter Sport Fruit and Nut which we had at home to soothe my frayed nerves after the botched biriyani attempt and the KKR defeat.

I looked at K and said that the chicken was too big and that the micro didn't turn leading to the unevenly cooked biriyani. K, who seemed happy with the chicken which I took out from the biriyani for her, listened to me with the same patience with which SRK displayed towards Ganguly after a KKR loss.

SRK had tweeted then:

"this loss was due to toss. the last hitch becos of pitch. time for excuses is over.either we play better or keep being deserving losers".


Happy Fork said…
you make even your "failures" sound interesting
Sasha said…
You deserve a hug for being brave enough to even try making Cal style biryani at home.
I am no expert - but saffron, instead of turmeric may have given it that uneven colour. Also, I have seen my mom-in-law make biryani at home - and she makes it almost perfectly - she doesn't use curd anywhere in the recipe. Uses milk instead of water to cook the rice. And no microwaves - only the 'dum phukt' way.
I guess, biryani is one of those few recipes where measurements instead of gut feel makes sense - and hence, following the recipe is very important. It was, afterall, a royal dish meant for Nawabs and Nizams.:o)
Hope you perfect it the next time.
Kirti said…
Kalyan - Wow! That was a self-effacing blog. However, one failure can hardly wipe out your superb record of tender, melt-in-the-mouth Kosha Mangsho.

Now for the insights. Your process for Biryani is the Hyderabadi or Kutchi style. Kolkata's Biryani is a combination of Yahkni pulao and Awadhi style. The yellow colored rice in cheaper biryanis come from food color. In more expensive ones it comes from saffron infused milk.

You can add deep fried onion slivers at the end on top of the rice. Turmeric is not used in Calcutta Biryani.

Btw, the Kakori Kabab from KH was outstanding!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Happy Fork ... yes the night was quite funny when I looked back upon it :)

@Sasha aaw and thanks...will mess up the biriyani again just for that :)

But you are right. You need the recipe if you want to replicate the actual dish. I am sure that both Anna and the King have set the Royal Guards after me after I made a 'vegetarian' Thai curry :)

Actually one of my earlier pulaos which I made on the spot for Dadu involved streaks of saffron mlk.

Now, need to crack the Hainanese Chicken Curry

@Kirti, thanks thought I might as well salvage a story out of it :)

Kakori House is one of the reasons why one doesn't mind paying the rent at Bandra
5 Spice said…
Where is Kakori House located?
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@5 Spice: Bardhaman Road, bandra. Home Delivery and takeaway only. The number is 9320090269. This is one of my first write ups on the place http://tinyurl.com/yep2ejc

They have a stall at the Inrobit Mall Food Court and I saw a shop coming up at Mahim near Jaffer Bhai
Soumik said…
Arey don't be too hard KNIFE. The trick i thiknk is in remembering that all Kolkata biryanis are cooked in mutton stock and fat. And yes the sprinkling of turmeric and a dash of rose water may complement. But like all super hero movies where the sequel is alwez better...this time around i know YOU WILL BE BACK!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Maity Man: Thanks Bhai.

Naah, wasn't being hard. Wrote the post to at least to get some page views. Learning how to salvage from a lost cause from @Iamsrk

Hats off to your bravery.

Rediscovered the Mojo be making some chicken hakka noodles tonight. My equivalent of left hand spin for Dada
k said…
If you feeling bad about this, I urge you to remember my smoked custard. Bowls and bowls of burnt mass. And I was not even ashamed of it. Watch and learn.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@:: I remember the custard. I had even lesser an option ro refuse than the Maity Man had this time :)
Haha! Good post! I am sure the next one will be great as usual... My real Biryani was a disaster last time. I either buy or get my Mom to make it ...
Scarlett said…
You know my take on the Calcutta Biryani. I won't hurt your feelings again ;)

P.S.: You HAVE proclaimed, to me at least, that "you're a super chef with the golden touch who never goes wrong?" Remember your "food talks to me" comments? :D
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Somoo: that's very sensible :)

@Scarlett: Seems like the biriyani crossed its arms, puffed its cheek and refused to talk :(
Jaya M said…
Did you mentioned Shiraz , I think I have eaten one of the best chicken biryani with potatoes there..and my hubby is a huge fan to that still ,no comparison!..
(Another great place is Karim's in Delhi,they serve one of the best Awadhi cuisine) ..That always make me realize even I have a long way to go :)onek failures amaar O hoyeche ..you have written so well about the failure that it almost sound a victory to me :)..
hope you make it to the list..all the best.
Kalyan Karmakar said…

Thanks for writing in. I have had Shiraz's biriyani a couple of times when I used to work in Cal. I remember it to be extremely non greasy and better than Nizams and Zeeshans. The current fav is a place called Arsalan from what I gather.

Thanks so much for your comment on the post. I must say that food stories excite me as much as actual food does. So managed to salvage a post out of the biriyani :)
sra said…
I laughed out loud when I read about the MW. When I got married, I didn't know a thing about ordinary cooking, but tried making a biriyani to show off - bunged the bird and the rice into an electric rice cooker for The Spouse and friends.

To me, it stank. Literally. The Spouse and friends ate it and even said it was nice. I, though, couldn't touch meat for a couple of months after that.
Anonymous said…
Came across this page in the process of hunting for a Calcutta Biryani recipe. Biryani plenty here in London but none of them really are. More like curried meat and rice pretending to be Biryani. What's with the coriander leaves?! The Irish husband had a taste of Zeeshan Biryani a couple of years ago in Calcutta during Diwali....and loved it. Will have to tell him that it's pretty much impossible to make at home. :/

P.S: Next time, try using saffron instead of turmeric.